Bay Journal Op-Ed: State Pollution-Permitting Must Be Reformed to Adapt to Climate Change
This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission.
Recent extreme weather — Hurricanes Harvey and Florence — caused widespread toxic contamination of floodwaters after low-lying chemical plants, coal ash storage facilities and hog waste lagoons were inundated.
Such storm-driven chemical disasters demonstrate that state water pollution permitting programs are overdue for reforms that account for stronger and more intense hurricanes and heavy rainfall events, sea level rise and extreme heat.
As the District of Columbia and the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed prepare their final watershed implementation plans for cleaning up the Bay, two important lessons should be clear from the recent disasters: First, climate change will greatly complicate Bay cleanup efforts and must therefore be factored into planning. Second, the state regulation of pollution sources can and should be a critical component of the plan.
The potential pollution implications of climate change are many and varied for the Bay watershed:
- Where sunny-day flooding now occurs on a weekly basis in parts of DC, Maryland and Virginia, accelerating sea levels will cause nuisance flooding on a near-daily basis in the next 20–30 years.
- Sea level rise also raises the prospect that seawater will intrude into coastal groundwater, inundating and degrading drinking water wells, septic tanks and underground chemical or hazardous waste storage facilities.
- Sea level rise will also shrink tidal wetlands, weakening these natural filters' ability to help capture pollution.
EPA Releases Assessment of Chesapeake Bay Restoration Progress
Today, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office of the Environmental Protection Agency officially released its assessment of Chesapeake Bay restoration progress. This marked the formal conclusion of the multi-year process known as the "midpoint assessment" for the Chesapeake's cleanup plan. 2017 represents the halfway point for the cleanup, at which time state and federal partners were supposed to have reached 60 percent of their final 2025 nutrient and sediment pollution reduction targets. Unfortunately, 2017 will go down as another in a long
EPA Releases Expectations for Chesapeake Bay States
This is an update to an earlier post explaining why the release of EPA’s TMDL expectations is important. These posts are part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. This week, EPA’s Mid-Atlantic regional office released its final expectations for how states and their federal partners are to implement the third and final phase of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup process, which runs from 2018 to 2025. The good news is
Approaching the Chesapeake Bay Midpoint Assessment -- Part II
Yesterday in this space, I took a look at the progress that three Chesapeake Bay watershed states – New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia – have made in implementing their Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), on their way – perhaps – to meeting the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollution reduction targets for 2025. In this post, I'll take a look at Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC. Delaware The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) is leading
Approaching the Chesapeake Bay Midpoint Assessment -- Part I
The Chesapeake Bay restoration effort is arguably one of the largest conservation endeavors ever undertaken. The Bay watershed is made up of 150 major rivers and streams and contains 100,000 smaller tributaries spread across Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. It supplies drinking water for more than 17 million residents and is one of the most important economic drivers on the East Coast of the United States. The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily
Bay Journal Op-Ed: 'Stopping Rules' Would Say When It's Time to Shift from Debating to Acting
This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission. Science is hard, environmental policy is complicated and regulatory science can seem endlessly confounding. It does not have to be. Earlier this year, the Chesapeake Bay partners stepped into a time-worn trap, heeding calls from overly cautious states to wait for more refined scientific modeling of climate change impacts before taking action to eliminate pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Having punted action until 2021 at the earliest,
Halftime for the Chesapeake Bay: New Webpage on Midpoint Assessment of Pollution Cleanup Effort
The Center for Progressive Reform has been closely watching the development and implementation of the Chesapeake Bay restoration plan since its inception. As part of our ongoing commitment to ensure the success of the plan, known as the Bay TMDL, we have developed a new web-based resource focused on the issues and decisions related to the TMDL's midpoint assessment process. The page is a one-stop shop for advocates, members of the media, and residents concerned about restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay, as well
What Happens on the Land Happens to the Water
This post is part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. In my last post, I described how a database housed by the Maryland Department of the Environment allows tracking of land development activities in real time. This database not only gives us the ability to track the recent scale and pattern of habitat destruction in Maryland, but it also can be used by regulators to build a tool that will allow
What the Failure to Account for Growth Looks Like in Maryland
This post is part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. In a recent post, I described the broad failure of Chesapeake Bay states to follow EPA's basic expectations to account for pollution growth under the restoration framework known as the Bay TMDL. This failure is one important contributor to the current state of the Bay restoration, which is years behind schedule. If states don't hold the line on new pollution by
Holding the Line on New Pollution While We Clean Up the Chesapeake Bay
This post is part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. A few weeks ago, I discussed why the periodic written "expectations" from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are critically important to the Chesapeake Bay's restoration. These expectations communicate to the state and federal partners in the Chesapeake cleanup effort what they need to do and when in order to implement the coordinated plan of action necessary to reach the
EPA Isn't the Only Place Where Enforcement Is Being Put on Ice
Recently, the Environmental Integrity Project released a report highlighting the freeze that Administrator Scott Pruitt has placed on the enforcement of the nation's environmental laws. The headline figures are stunning: "Civil Cases for Pollution Violations Decline by 44 Percent and Penalties Down by 49 Percent." And these numbers may understate the situation, as former EPA officials have noted that some of the cases and penalties that the agency has been touting were brought by the previous administration, not Pruitt's EPA.
New Report: Three Fundamental Flaws in Maryland's Water Pollution Trading Regulations
On December 8, the Maryland Department of the Environment published its long-awaited nutrient trading regulations, capping more than two years of effort to develop a comprehensive environmental market intended to reduce the amount of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. A trading market would allow people, companies, and governments required by law to reduce the amount of pollution they discharge to purchase "credits" for pollution reduction efforts undertaken by someone else. In theory, water pollution trading ensures overall
Clean Water Laws Need to Catch Up with Science
The field of environmental law often involves tangential explorations of scientific concepts. Lately, one scientific term – hydrologic connectivity – seems to keep finding its way into much of my work. As for many others, this principle of hydrology became familiar to me thanks to its place at the center of one of the biggest fights in the history of environmental law, spilling onto the front pages and into the public consciousness. Over the last several decades, a pair of
Pair of EPA Actions Show Long Road Ahead for Urban Water Quality, Climate Resilience
Over the last couple of months, a pair of actions taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) demonstrate the glacial pace of federal stormwater management policy under the Clean Water Act. In October, EPA rejected a series of petitions by a group of environmental organizations to expand regulatory protections for certain urban waterways. Then last month, EPA issued a new national rule clarifying existing urban water quality regulations, but only because it was forced to respond to a federal
New EPA Assessment Shines a Light on a Cause of Chesapeake Bay Woes
The Chesapeake Bay watershed and its restoration framework under the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) are so large and complex that it can be a real challenge to study, much less write about, the problem and the ongoing restoration efforts. This is why the recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessment of the tiny Beck Creek watershed in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania is so valuable. The same activities that have fouled Beck Creek and the restoration practices that are working
Climate-Related Catastrophes Require Proactive Solutions and Preparation
Two people died on July 30 after a 1,000-year storm brought devastating flooding to the lovely and historic Ellicott City, Maryland, just outside of Baltimore. The 6.5 inches of rain that fell over the course of a few hours damaged or destroyed more than 150 vehicles and scores of buildings, and forced the rescue of dozens of people. It also sent more than 5 million gallons of sewage per day from several different sites into the Patuxent River and out
EPA Releases 2016 Assessments for Chesapeake Bay States
This morning, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its annual assessments of progress made by the seven jurisdictions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The bottom line: nothing has really changed in terms of the content or tone from the previous annual assessments, and they do not appear to reflect a shift in strategy by EPA toward greater enforcement against lagging states under the "accountability framework" of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL). First, a quick summary
Trading Away the Benefits of Green Infrastructure
In the world of watershed restoration, there are multiple tools and tactics that government agencies, private landowners, and industry can use to reduce pollution and clean up our waterways. In Maryland, two of those approaches seem destined to collide. On the first track is nutrient trading, a least-cost pollution control concept predicated on the idea that if some distant entity can reduce the same amount of pollution at a lower cost than a facility with a water pollution control permit,